What 3D printing could mean for our island state

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April 02, 2013

If you operate any kind of business in The Bahamas, importing goods is one of your realities.
3D printing could change much of that, making it possible to print a replacement part rather than order it. For any designer, famous or not, it means the freedom to design whatever it is you can dream up at very competitive prices, with similar or smaller carbon footprints than traditional means.
If you believe this is the stuff of science fiction, you are sadly mistaken; 3D printers are currently available on the market with many being suited for use in homes, small offices and schools, some from common players like HP and also from the less widely known Endgadget. As with any technology you have the affordable, with the cheapest ones being around $2,000, and to the fabulously expensive ones. Regardless, much like other printers, you always spend the bulk of your money on the ink, which in this case is called filament.
3D printing transforms a digital design generated by computer-aided drafting into a tangible object you can hold in your hand. It is considered to be an additive process, as it makes the object by continually layering to build it up. Typically, machining processes take a section of metal, for example, and cut or drill to make what is needed. This in contrast is considered a subtractive process.
For countries like ours that do not have the economies of scale to make many areas of manufacturing feasible, these printers could entirely level the playing field, making it practical to do small scale manufacture of parts, equipment, souvenirs and building materials. The only limit is your imagination.
In the very near future we will begin seeing the first buildings made from 3D printing, as according to the web-based magazine Quartz, a Dutch architect is designing a curvy see-through building to be completed next year; and Softkill Design based in London is constructing a web-like building to be completed this year.
What I like best about this technology is it makes it easier to directly recycle many materials even those that we thought to be difficult, like glass. Indeed there are currently desktop extruding systems available, like the Filabot, which can grind milk jugs, soda bottles or other types of plastics to generate the filament needed for these printers.
I believe as the technology continues to progress, manufacturing and other sectors will be changed in ways that personal computers, the Internet and digital cameras transformed many industries with high barriers to entry. This is certainly a technology worth watching as the investment opportunities are imminent.

o Send questions or comments to sbrown@graphitebahamas.com. Sonia Brown is principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.

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News date : 04/02/2013    Category : Business, Nassau Guardian Stories

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